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QLogic shifts sales channel; focuses on Infiniband

QLogic Corp., is growing up.

The Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) maker has recently stepped up its operations in several directions to move from an OEM company to a commercial entity. The company will make its storage area network (SAN) interconnect devices available through distribution and reseller channels. More important than a shift in sales, however, is the company's role in new interconnect technologies. Acquiring Ancor Communications, Inc., in a $1.7 billion stock swap last month has placed QLogic smack dab in the middle of the development of the highly anticipated Infiniband technology.

"InfiniBand is approaching a critical stage of spec finalization and product development," said Vernon Turner, Vice President, Commercial System and Server, International Data Corp. "In the past few months, we have seen a large number of companies make InfiniBand product commitments. For end users, InfiniBand Architecture provides robust server I/O performance that will enable a new class of performance in the data center and Internet applications."

QLogic was the first company to demonstrate a functioning Infiniband switch for server clustering at the Intel Developer's Forum last month. The InfiniBand Trade Association has announced its second developer's conference will be held Oct. 24-26 at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas, Nev.

Larry Fortmuller, QLogic's, vice president of marketing, cautioned that in order for Infiniband to work in the outside world it has to function with existing and future Fibre Channel devices, as well as the legacy products. "It has to work with Fibre Channel (FC) SANs and IP networks. It's going to need to connect to WANs (wide area networks)." But Infiniband will not replace Fibre Channel technology. "Fibre Channel and Infiniband are going to mature together," said Fortmuller. "For SANs, Fibre Channel has the leap. It's going to be years before it's threatened by anything."

In the meantime, QLogic is making sure that it focuses on what it knows how to do, bridge the gap. "We're positioning ourselves to do what we know and provide a bridge between Fibre Channel, Infiniband, PCI-X, and iSCSI. Ultimately the objective is to migrate all the legacy equipment from a clustering solution to a fabric solution." Fortmuller said that it may be 2002 before Infiniband technology becomes seriously available on a broad scale.

The current strategy of bridging all the interconnect architectures is evident with QLogic's debut of its 2G byte/sec Fibre Channel host bus adapters, double the capacity of existing 1G Byte/sec technology. Fibre Channel operating at 2G byte/sec will enable storage-area networks (SANs) to perform applications at a performance increase of two to three times.

"The 2G Byte Fibre Channel is the natural extension of today's technology," said Fortmuller. The only thing holding the 2G Byte/sec technology back, according to Fortmuller, is the software drivers.

"The hard part of the HBA is the drivers, not the chips. We have 33 people dedicated to just doing software for the HBA drivers," he said. In order to overcome I/O bottleneck issues, QLogic has boosted the performance of the RISC processor, and cleaned and polished the firmware. QLogic said that the technology is "essentially ready," and will be rolled out in time for Comdex in November.

"From our viewpoint, it became clear to us that the market was moving to the Fibre Channel switch," he said. Until recently, QLogic was a SCSI, ASIC designer and didn't compete with the likes of Adaptec, Inc., JNI Corp., and Emulex Corp. But with the acquisition of Ancor, QLogic's position in the market has changed. "We were 100% OEM'd, now we're establishing the secondary channel and are making our products commercially available."

Fortmuller concluded that the Fibre Channel industry is growing up. "This market's bigger than we thought it was going to be," he said. Though it's still on its learning curve, QLogic's presence in the Fibre Channel arena is growing with it.

To comment on this story e-mail: Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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